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The New Media Project is a research endeavor funded by the Lilly Endowment aimed at helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology.

 



Can social media bring out what’s inside you?

March 27, 2012
By Gregg Brekke, guest blogger

Good sayings stick with you—even in a hyper-change-oriented world. Over a year ago Josh Rose wrote a Mashable editorial about the positive aspects of social media on culture. He concluded, “The Internet doesn’t steal our humanity, it reflects it. The Internet doesn’t get inside us, it shows what’s inside us. And social media isn’t cold, it’s just complex and hard to define.”

Even today I believe some in the church feel exactly the opposite about Rose’s statements: that the Internet is a soul stealing, dehumanizing, poor substitute for social interaction.

I consider myself a convert away from this line of thinking; one who wrote in 2006 that social networking sites offered a “hollow” substitute for face-to-face relationships involving the vulnerability, risk, and trust needed to maintain such relationships.

In truth, I was reacting (not all that pastorally, as it turns out) to a pastoral problem in the church I was leading—people with social disorders were finding ways to justify their dis-ease with human interactions by seeking online relationships instead of engaging their problems in a therapeutic and healing way.

What I missed at the time, and some continue to miss, is that social media is “complex and hard to define.” It’s especially hard on the micro level—that is, with individuals.

If we fail to look at the individual and only focus on the grand “social media strategy” for our organizations, we foster the dehumanizing potential of online interactions.

To that end, if an organization—business, church, or nonprofit—only measures its social media success by the number of followers it has or the number of comments, likes, or forwards, it has failed to harness the power of social media as a means for fulfilling an organizational vision or purpose.

Recent examples of “social media success” lead me to believe that vision and purpose are the starting points of the humanizing aspects of technology—it’s the “show[ing] what’s inside us” aspect of Rose’s conclusions about the cultural influence of social media.

When the largest breast cancer fundraising organization in the U.S. reverses course on its decision to withhold monies from a nonprofit women’s health provider, that’s social media success.

When 150 companies request that their advertisements not be aired during a conservative radio personality’s show because of insulting statements he made, that’s social media success.

When 100 million people are now aware of the man responsible for a reign of murder, torture, kidnapping, and enslavement in Uganda, that’s social media success.

To be sure, each of these examples has its detractors and a myriad of counter arguments. But the fact is, each engaged broad segments of the social media universe—on a uniquely individual level—in realizing its purpose.

Those who care greatly about breast cancer prevention and treatment, in addition to reproductive health and choice, rallied to Planned Parenthood’s side in urging the Susan G. Komen foundation to resume funding.

Women, and the men who are man enough to respect them, took great offense at Rush Limbaugh’s characterization of Sandra Fluke because she lobbied for employer coverage of birth control.

People of all ages, races and creeds were astounded that Joseph Kony, leader of the paramilitary Lord Resistance Army, had not been brought to justice for his ongoing crimes against humanity.

Tapping into the deep-seated longings, bringing to the surface what’s inside, of those we are trying to reach is a far-reaching but powerful goal for our organizations. I challenge you to think about your social media strategy through this lens: are you looking for click-through or follow-through, commenters or evangelists, friends or people engaged in your purpose?

The Rev. Gregg Brekke owns SixView Studios, a communications company dedicated to the art of visual communication and interpretation. An award winning photojournalist and writer, he serves as Vice Chair of the National Council of Churches U.S.A. Communication Commission, on the World Alliance for Christian Communication (WACC-NA) Executive Committee as the team lead for video and film projects, and as a board member for the Associated Church Press. An ordained United Church of Christ minister, Brekke blogs at http://revgregg.wordpress.com.

The New Media Project at Union Theological Seminary is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmedia@uts.columbia.edu.


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